DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. Inu-Yasha - A Feudal Fairytale and all related characters are the creations of Rumiko Takahashi.
SPOILER WARNING: This story takes place after Episode 141 of the Anime and Volume 30 of the Manga, which is when one of the main characters makes his first appearance, so this story contains spoilers if you haven't seen that much of Inu-Yasha yet.
TRILOGY NOTE: This story is the third of a trilogy. The first is 'A Hint of Innocence" and the second is 'Out in the Cold'. All three stories were written together.
Hakudoushi could feel the exhaustion tugging at his senses long before the fight was over. He forced himself to ignore it, charging at the youkai in his path as though he was still at full strength. It would never do for anyone to realise the truth. If any of the youkai watching the battle from the shadows caught even the slightest hint of how weak he truly was at that moment... He forced the thought out of his mind. No! He would not let them see such a thing!
His sword sliced through his opponent and there was a moment of stillness. The youkai, an eight foot long worm beast with three large eyes and a huge gaping mouth in its belly, froze in mid attack before it slipped silently to the ground, one half falling to either side as a result of Hakudoushi's vertical attack. The boy had literally sliced the youkai in half.
Although he badly wanted to rest for a moment, Hakudoushi forced himself to stand up straight and look around. There was no uncertainty or weakness in his cool stare and the watching youkai decided that discretion was definitely the wisest course of action. They fled without hesitation... but with a lot of panic and worried looks over their shoulders. Hakudoushi might have laughed, if he hadn't been otherwise occupied in staying on his feet without swaying.
He sensed Kagura approaching him, but didn't turn to look at her. "Take me home." It was an order. He knew that she would take it as such. Only he knew that it was also a plea.
When Kagura's feather appeared in the air high above him, he started to gather his strength for the jump. The arm that suddenly moved around his waist caught him by surprise. "What are you doing?" His tone was harsh, cold, demanding. He couldn't afford for her to think of him as anything else.
Hakudoushi felt Kagura's warm breath on his ear as she whispered to him. "The wind currents in this area are kinda tricky. I'm having a little trouble keeping my feather still so it might move unexpectedly. I didn't think you'd want anyone to see you miss the jump." He could hear the smirk in her voice.
Any other time, he would have spoken harshly to her. At that point though, all he felt was relief that he wouldn't have to make the jump under his own power. There was a chance that he would have missed, and not because of any supposedly shifting air currents either! He nodded abruptly and allowed her to use her power over the winds to lift them both up to her feather.
It was a long flight back to the mansion where they were living. They had barely started off when Hakudoushi realised that he was in worse shape than he'd thought. The cold winds buffeted him more strongly than they ever had before and he had to struggle to avoid being blown off the feather. He hung on tightly and gritted his teeth, determined not to let Kagura see any signs of weakness. But they still had a long way to go and his strength was fading by the minute.
"Hakudoushi..." Kagura's voice caught his attention, but he didn't turn to look at her.
"What is it?"
"You don't look too good."
Hakudoushi tensed in shock. It was the last thing he had expected her to say. Forgetting about his tenuous position on the feather, he whirled around to look at her. He was still turning when a gust of wind caught him, blowing him to one side. Before he could catch himself, Kagura's hand grabbed his arm. "Careful," she warned seriously, "the air currents are dangerous today." Hakudoushi blinked up at Kagura as she pulled an irritated face. "It's all I can do to keep us on the right course. It's not natural and it's not my doing. I'd say some idiot has annoyed another Wind Youkai around here."
She glanced down at Hakudoushi, frowning slightly as she hesitated. The boy scowled. "What? I can see that you want to say something. So say it!" He wasn't sure what annoyed him more. The fact that Kagura had caught him, the fact that she was still holding on to his arm, or the relief he'd felt when she'd confirmed that the wind really was much stronger than usual that day.
Kagura shrugged. "Like I said, you don't look too good." She returned her gaze to the sky ahead of them. "We won't get there for a while yet. If you want to take a nap or something, there's time." She glanced at him again and apparently noticed his thunderous scowl because she smirked and added, "Before you tell me to mind my own business, remember, you are my business. If anything happened to you, I'm sure Naraku wouldn't hesitate to blame me. So it's in my best interests to..." She hesitated, apparently unable to come up with the right word.
"Fuss over me like I was a helpless child?" Hakudoushi glared at her, furious that she'd realised the truth that he'd been trying to hide from her and even more furious that she'd dared to speak to him in such a way. Kagura glanced at him again and for just a moment he thought he saw something flash through her ruby eyes. The emotion was gone before he could tell what it had been, but for some reason he suddenly didn't feel so angry with her anymore.
"You're hardly 'helpless'." Kagura's reply was surprisingly soft. She looked away again. "But you do look tired. I wouldn't be surprised if Naraku was waiting for our return. It wouldn't be good if he saw you looking like that."
Hakudoushi did not reply. There was nothing he could say. Kagura was right, and she knew it. No matter how much he hated the thought, there was no alternative. He had to rest. Scowling, he started to lie down on the feather. Only then did he remember that Kagura was still holding on to him.
Kagura glanced down at him and shook her head. "Don't lie down. The winds are too unsteady today." She hesitated and then sighed softly. Hakudoushi thought he heard her mutter something about having no other choice, then she tugged on his arm. "Come here."
"What are you doing?" Hakudoushi was wary. Surely Kagura didn't mean what he thought she meant?
Kagura frowned at him. "If you're going to sleep, you'll need to lean against me so I can keep a hold of..." The feather shuddered slightly and Kagura broke off the conversation to handle the situation. "This is definitely a Wind Youkai's work," she muttered as she stabilised the feather again.
Hakudoushi was surprised, but not unwilling. He could see her point. The fact that Kagura was having so much trouble keeping the feather steady told him that the matter was serious. As soon as the feather stopped shuddering he moved closer, settling down with his back leaning against Kagura. He closed his eyes and allowed his weariness to settle over him.
"I'll wake you before we arrive." Kagura's voice was the last thing he heard before sleep claimed him.
He was warm and comfortable and someone was holding him close. Hakudoushi's sleep-fogged mind took a moment to enjoy the sensations. Then he woke completely and realised how wrong everything was. He started to react, but forced himself to remain still until he found out what was happening.
Carefully easing his eyes open, Hakudoushi studied the situation. It worried him. Apparently, in his sleep he'd shifted position so he was now curled up against Kagura rather than simply leaning against her. That was not good. He must have been in a deep sleep for him to relax his guard to such an extent. Which meant that he had been more exhausted than he had realised. Fortunately, Kagura apparently hadn't noticed anything unusual. She had slipped one arm around him to hold him in place as he slept, but other than that she was still concentrating on controlling the troublesome winds.
Hakudoushi briefly considered moving, but then discarded the idea. He was comfortable and Kagura hadn't noticed anything odd, so it was safe for him to remain as he was. Although he was feeling a bit stronger, he was still very tired. A little more sleep was just what he needed. He closed his eyes.
This position was familiar to him. The thought slipped into his mind, surprising him slightly. It took a moment for Hakudoushi to remember.
He hadn't been himself back then. He'd been half of someone else. Hakudoushi vaguely remembered being held by the girl, Kagome. She'd held him close and he'd rested his head against her chest, just as he was resting against Kagura now. Her heartbeat had echoed in his ear, just as... Hakudoushi's thoughts stilled as the silence registered. It was strange. He'd never thought of silence as being loud before.
Kagura didn't have a heartbeat. Kagura didn't have a heart. At least, not within her. Naraku had stolen it when she was created. It was how he controlled her. She was his puppet and he used her as he wished.
Hakudoushi didn't have a heart either. He'd never thought about it like that before. As he considered the similarities between himself and Kagura, an icy chill slipped down his spine.
'Some day, Naraku will have no further use for her. He will kill her then, without hesitation. When he has no further use for me... will his response be the same?' The answer rose in his mind immediately.
'She is just like me.'